Innovations that turn ammonia in wastewater into green energy and use artificial intelligence (AI) or unexploited telecoms cables to detect leaks in the water network are among the winners of Ofwat’s inaugural £2 million Innovation in Water Challenge (IWC).
Eleven collaborative initiatives led by water companies and involving a number of partner organisations, will receive up to £250,000 each to tackle the biggest issues facing the water sector in England and Wales.
The winning entries, recommended by an independent panel of judges, include green initiatives such as planting and restoring seagrass meadows on the Essex and Suffolk coastlines, a scheme to turn ammonia in wastewater into green hydrogen gas, and software that can monitor the degradation of wildlife habitats. Other ideas focus on the prevention of leaks in the water network through the use of AI, CCTV, and unexploited optical fibre strands in telecoms networks, as well as using behavioural science to better support vulnerable customers.
John Russell, Senior Director at Ofwat, said: “Innovation has the potential to drive a sea-change in the water sector and tackle some of the biggest challenges we are facing in society. Solutions that turn wastewater into green hydrogen and the use of artificial intelligence to detect leaks are just some of the cutting-edge winning initiatives that we hope will make a real impact in the coming months and mark the beginning of a new wave of innovation in the sector.
“We were particularly pleased to see so many water company collaborations among the entries, and the winning proposal for the development of the sector’s Innovation Centre of Excellence will be crucial in driving future change. We are looking forward to the future rounds of the competitions and supporting even more transformative projects to fruition over the coming years.”
Run by Ofwat and Nesta Challenges, and supported by Arup and Isle Utilities, the IWC was the first competition this year within Ofwat’s £200 million Innovation Fund. It is part of the regulator’s goal to create an innovative and collaborative water sector that meets the evolving needs of customers, society and the environment in the years to come.
Chris Gorst, Director of Challenges at Nesta Challenges, commented: “It’s an important moment for the water sector, which must adapt and innovate to build a sustainable water ecosystem that benefits customers, society and the environment. We were delighted to see such strong collaboration both within and beyond the sector in response to this first Innovation in Water Challenge, and we look forward to seeing these innovations developed and adopted widely in the sector.”
Rachel Skinner, President of the Institution of Civil Engineers and chair of the IWC judging panel, said: “It was refreshing to see such a high standard of entries across the breadth of the water sector in this inaugural funding round. Taken together, the shortlisted entries provided a clear snapshot of the industry and its current challenges but also multiple opportunities for widespread transformation in diverse areas ranging from the urgent need for accelerated action on climate mitigation and resilience, to new ways to build value for customers as the social and economic impacts of COVID-19 play out. They also highlighted huge potential for onward cross-sector learning and collaboration that will now be explored in detail. I’m very much looking forward to seeing the funded projects take flight.”
We look forward to building on this strong start as we open the Water Breakthrough Challenge on 6 May 2021 and a further round of the IWC in Autumn 2021.
CatchmentLIFE will build bespoke software that volunteers and experts can use, showing the impacts of habitat degradation on wildlife and ecological communities.
Project partners: Bristol Water plc, Earthwatch Europe, Environment Agency, Loughborough University, Natural Resources Wales, SES Water, The River Restoration Centre (RRC), University of Huddersfield, and Wessex Water Services Ltd. Led by South East Water.